A conversation with André Terrail, owner of the La Tour d’Argent restaurant in Paris:
“Wine will help us return to a normal life. This will be an excellent excuse to get out some mature vintages”.
How do you anticipate the end of lockdown for gourmet restaurants?
This crisis differs from past experiences in that this is the first time that we will not be able to meet up and celebrate when it’s all over, at least initially. And yet, as a Latin people, our first instinct is to eat and drink at the end of challenging times.
How do you see the stages in which gourmet restaurants will reopen?
There will be an initial phase of reunion, freighted with emotion, distance and imposed diffidence. The measures required - social distancing and health precautions - will be difficult to cope with emotionally, because they go against the grain of our profession. High-end gastronomy is like a never-ending play that changes every night. We like to be with our patrons and not keep them at arm’s length. A restaurant can be likened to the village square – it is the ultimate social, multi-generational meeting place where we celebrate life’s milestones and is part of the French genetic make-up. We will have to be creative, flexible and ready to engage. A word that springs to my mind is "tenderness", because we will have to manage this highly emotional reunion very sensitively.
What strengths can the industry draw upon?
The everyday heroes who ensure logistics run effectively in spite of the crisis – those in the cold chain system and the millers who deliver to the bakery at La Tour, for instance. The technology is up to speed and we will be able to provide for our customers, who expect us to find solutions, through deliveries, takeaways and pick and collect. This will all be part and parcel of the reunion phase, because there is no guarantee that we can fill restaurants or open every day in the beginning. We're not all going to turn into caterers, but we're going to adapt, so that people can enjoy a restaurant experience in their own homes.
In what way has the crisis changed consumer awareness?
The French have taken up cooking, they have shown an even greater interest in produce and are watching videos, when usually they don't have time. They will have learned a lot and when they go back to the top restaurants, they will have a heightened sense of awareness. Existing trends will pick up speed – short supply chains, the farm to fork approach, the drop in food waste, the CO2 footprint. Dramatisation, which is at the core of our business, will be more important than ever: people will come to watch the sommelier decant a fine wine, the front of house manager filet a John Dory or plate up duck, or even to dine in the kitchen itself. They will want to experience the entertainment element again.
La Tour d'Argent is renowned for its outstanding cellar, extremely well stocked with rare wines*. Are you going to continue to purchase wine after lockdown ends?
Our cellars are specific to us because they are built up over a twenty-year period. After the crisis, there may be more accessible wines on which it would be worthwhile us placing an option. We work with both established companies and young winegrowers, and we have a very varied wine list. We have to think about the future and we will continue to buy even if we have stock.
What will wine’s role be when establishments can reopen as normal?
It's at times like this that we open bottles we were looking forward to savouring with our family and friends. Wine will help us return to a normal life, to celebrate the joy of being together again and in good health. This will be an excellent excuse to get out some mature vintages.
* La Tour d'Argent houses 320,000 bottles and 14,000 different products. Some vintages date back to the 19th century. The rarest bottle is a 1945 Burgundy by La Romanée-Conti.